Editor’s note: Raleigh-based smart energy firm Sensus released a whitepaper last week that documents how technology can help water utility firms worldwide reduce energy costs and improve efficiency. WRAL Tech Wire asked Sensus CEO Peter Mainz to discuss the report’s findings and its implications for utilities worldwide.

RALEIGH – North Carolina has certainly seen its share of population growth. Growth provides some great opportunities but can also stress our infrastructure. Add to that, periods of drought along with the inevitable water restrictions. Further, it’s becoming increasingly important that water infrastructures become resilient—not only to drought conditions but natural disasters such as what the Northeast recently experienced with Hurricane Sandy.

Water utilities and municipalities across the country are looking for ways to strike the right balance between consuming and conserving water. They must manage the rising costs of energy, capture lost water and revenue and support new customer service expectations.

Globally, utilities are spending nearly $184 billion each year related to the supply of clean water—$14 billion of which is spent on energy costs just to pump water around the current networks. Water not only is vital for bodies, it also gives life to countries. Given the link between gross domestic product (GDP) and the availability of drinking water, this vital resource is both a source of life and livelihood.

Water industry leaders are aware of the issues water utilities face, including environmental impacts, an aging infrastructure and increases in energy prices.

The human, environmental and financial stakes couldn’t be higher.

Smart technologies can be leveraged to help address these water challenges. Advancements in technology that deliver enhanced data make that possible today. In fact, communities like Cary are already reaping the rewards of smart water solutions. Smart water networks help communities quickly detect and stop leaks, lower carbon emissions by reducing the number of truck rolls, and provide customers with information on water usage to promote conservation.

Raleigh-based Sensus conducted in-depth interviews and comprehensive surveys with 182 global water utilities and published the results in a white paper titled Water 20/20: Bringing Smart Water Networks Into Focus.

The research revealed that utilities can save up to $12.5 billion annually from a combination of the following:

  • Improved leakage and pressure management
  • Strategic prioritization and allocation of capital expenditures
  • Streamlined network operations and maintenance
  • Streamlined water quality monitoring

The research also found key challenges to implementing smart water networks.

  • Lack of a strong business case: Sixty-five percent of survey respondents frequently cited unfavorable economics or the lack of a solid business case as key barriers to adoption of smart water networks.
  • Lack of funding even if there is a business case: Possible solutions to lower the barrier to entry include risk-sharing contracts to lower upfront investment required and third-party suppliers who manage and analyze the data.
  • Lack of political and regulatory support: Utilities suggested that regulatory support at all levels – as well as incentives – would be critical to kick-starting smart water management, beginning in water-scarce areas where the need for water efficiency and conservation is greatest.
  • Lack of a clear, user-friendly integrated technology solution: Fragmented product and service offerings from various vendors make it difficult for utilities to integrate a common business plan across their disparate operating divisions.

Moving smart water networks past the barriers and taking it from a promising experiment to widespread reality will require engagement from utilities and municipalities, regulators, investors, industry and utility associations, technology providers and academia. Collectively, these industry leaders can address the environmental and financial needs for smart water networks to revolutionize the water distribution infrastructure of the future.

All of the findings on smart water networks also point to a massive opportunity for utilities and the mayors of the towns or cities they serve to truly revolutionize water distribution networks around the world – many of which have remained largely static and untouched for decades.

Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population, or 4.6 billion people, face water stressed conditions in the next decade. With the human toll and the financial well-being of utilities at stake, the time to act is now.

The full report, Water 20/20: Bringing Smart Water Networks Into Focus, can be found at: www.sensus.com/smartwaternetworks

Peter Mainz is CEO and President of Raleigh based Sensus, which provides smart meters, communication systems, software and services for electric, gas, and water utilities that enable the intelligent use and conservation of energy and water.

(C) Sensus 2012